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A letter is a segmental of a phonemic . The inventory of all letters forms an . Letters broadly correspond to in the , although there is rarely a consistent and exact correspondence between letters and phonemes.

The word letter, borrowed from letre, entered around 1200 AD, eventually displacing the term bōcstæf (). Letter is descended from the Latin , which may have descended from the Greek "διφθέρα" (, writing tablet), via Etruscan.


Definition and usage
A letter is a type of , which is a functional unit in a writing system: a letter (or group of letters) represents visually a phoneme (a unit of sound that can distinguish one from another in a particular ). Letters are combined to form written words, just as phonemes are combined to form spoken words. A sequence of graphemes representing a phoneme is called a multigraph. A digraph is a case of polygraphs consisting of two graphemes. Examples of digraphs in English include ch, sh, and th. Some phonemes are represented by three letters, called a trigraph, such as sch in German.

The same may be used in different alphabets but have different sounds. The letters , and look rather alike but are the Latin H, Greek eta and Cyrillic en respectively; conversely the letters , () and (Es (Cyrillic)) from these alphabets each represent (approximately) the same s sound. The basic is used by hundreds of languages around the world, but there are many other .

Specific names are associated with letters, which may differ with language, dialect, and history. Z, for example, is usually called zed in all English-speaking countries except the US, where it is named zee. As elements of alphabets, letters have prescribed orders, although this too may vary by language. In Spanish, for instance, is a separate letter, sorted separately from : this distinction is not usually recognised in English dictionaries. (In computer systems, each has its own unique , and , respectively.)

Letters may also have a numerical or quantitative value. This applies to and the letters of other writing systems. In English, are typically used instead of letters. Greek and Latin letters have a variety of modern uses in mathematics, science, and engineering.

People and objects are sometimes named after letters, for one of these reasons:

  1. The letter is an abbreviation, e.g. "G-man" as slang for a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, arose as short for "Government Man"
  2. Alphabetical order used as a counting system, e.g. Plan A, Plan B, etc.; , , ,
  3. The shape of the letter, e.g. , , , , , H-block, , , , S or Z twist, , , , , , , a , omega block
  4. Other reasons, e.g. after " x the unknown" in , because the discoverer did not know what they were


History of alphabetic writing
Before there were alphabets there were : small pictures representing objects and concepts. Ancient Egyptian examples date to about 3000 BCE.
(1990). 9780520073098, University of California Press. .

The first consonantal alphabet found emerged around 1800 BCE to represent the language of the Phoenicians, workers in Egypt (see Middle Bronze Age alphabets), and was derived from the alphabetic principles of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Latin alphabet (used in Western and Central Europe and the former European colonies) derives from this Phoenician alphabet, which had 22 letters. Nineteen of the present letters of the Latin alphabet evolved from the early Phoenician forms; letter shapes and order of appearance correspond closely. The , adapted around 800 BCE, added four letters to the Phoenician list. This Greek alphabet was the first to assign letters not only to sounds, but also to . The Roman Empire brought the development and refinement of the Latin alphabet, beginning around 500 BCE. The Romans added or dropped certain letters to accommodate Greek and Etruscan words; they also experimented with styles such as cursive when writing in ink. By about the fifth century CE, the beginnings of lowercase letterforms began to emerge in Roman writing, but they did not come into common use until the end of the Middle Ages, a thousand years later.


Types of letters

Upper case and lower case
A letter can have multiple variants, or , related to variation in style of or . Some writing systems have two major types of allographs for each letter: an uppercase form (also called capital or ) and a form (also called minuscule). Upper- and lowercase letters represent the same sound, but serve different functions in writing. Capital letters are most often used at the beginning of a sentence, as the first letter of a proper name or title, or in headers or inscriptions. They may also serve other functions, such as in the where all begin with capital letters.

The terms uppercase and lowercase originated in the days of handset type for printing presses. Individual letter blocks were kept in specific compartments of drawers in a type case. Capital letters were stored in a higher drawer or upper case.

(1980). 9780486261423, Courier Corporation. .


Diacritics
In most alphabetic scripts, diacritics (or accents) are a routinely used. English is unusual in not using them except for from other languages or personal names (for example, , Brontë). The ubiquity of this usage is indicated by the existence of precomposed characters for use with computer systems (for example , , , , .)


Examples of letters in writing systems
In the following table, letters from multiple different are shown, to demonstrate the variety of letters used throughout the world.

Assamese alphabetঅ, আ, ই, ঈ, উ, ঊ, ঋ, এ, ঐ, ও, ঔ, ক, খ, গ, ঘ, ঙ, চ, ছ, জ, ঝ, ঞ, ট, ঠ, ড, ঢ, ণ, ত, থ, দ, ধ, ন, প, ফ, ব, ভ, ম, য, ৰ, ল, ৱ, শ, ষ, স, হ,ক্ষ, ড়, ঢ়, য়, ৎ, ং, ঃ, ঁ
অ, আ, ই, ঈ, উ, ঊ, ঋ, এ, ঐ, ও, ঔ, ক, খ, গ, ঘ, ঙ, চ, ছ, জ, ঝ, ঞ, ট, ঠ, ড, ঢ, ণ, ত, থ, দ, ধ, ন, প, ফ, ব, ভ, ম, য, ল, শ, ষ, স, হ,ক্ষ, ড়, ঢ়, য়, ৎ, ং, ঃ, ঁ
(Alphabetical from right to left) Aleph]], ﺏ, ﺕ, ﺙ, ﺝ, ﺡ, ﺥ, Dalet]], ﺫ, Resh]], Zayin]], ﺱ, ﺵ, Tsade]], ﺽ, Teth]], ﻅ, Ayin]], ﻍ, ﻑ, Qoph]], Kaph]], Lamedh]], Mem]], ﻥ, هـ, ﻭ, Yodh]]
Armenian alphabetԱ, Բ, Գ, Դ, Ե, Զ, Է, Ը, Թ, Ժ, Ի, Լ, Խ, Ծ, Կ, Հ, Ձ, Ղ, Ճ, Մ, Յ, Ն, Շ, Ո, Չ, Պ, Ջ, Ռ, Ս, Վ, Տ, Ր, Ց, Ւ, Փ, Ք, Օ, Ֆ
(Alphabetical from right to left) , ܒ, ܓ, ܕ, ܗ, ܘ, ܙ, ܚ, ܛ, ܝ, ܟܟ, ܠ, ܡܡ, ܢܢ, , ܥ, ܦ, , , ܪ, ܫ,
А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Α, Β, , Δ, , Ζ, Η, , , Κ, , Μ, Ν, Ξ, , Π, Ρ, Σ, , , , Χ, Ψ,
(Alphabetical from right to left) א, ב, , , ה, ו, , , , , , , , נ, , , פ, , , , ש, ת
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ
က ခ ဂ ဃ င စ ဆ ဇ ဈ ည ဋ ဌ ဍ ဎ ဏ တ ထ ဒ ဓ န ပ ဖ ဗ ဘ မ ယ ရ လ ဝ သ ဟ ဠ အ
ㄅ ㄆ ㄇ ㄈ ㄉ ㄊ ㄋ ㄌ ㄍ ㄎ ㄏ ㄐ ㄑ ㄒ ㄓ ㄔ ㄕ ㄖ ㄗ ㄘ ㄙ ㄚ ㄛ ㄜ ㄝ ㄞ ㄟ ㄠ ㄡ ㄢ ㄣ ㄤ ㄥ ㄦ ㄧ ㄨ ㄩ ㄭ
  ᚁ ᚂ ᚃ ᚄ ᚅ ᚆ ᚇ ᚈ ᚉ ᚊ ᚋ ᚌ ᚍ ᚎ ᚏ ᚐ ᚑ ᚒ ᚓ ᚔ ᚕ ᚖ ᚗ ᚘ ᚙ ᚚ ᚛ ᚜
ሀ ለ ሐ መ ሠ ረ ሰ ሸ ቀ በ ተ ቸ ኀ ነ ኘ አ ከ ኸ ወ ዐ ዘ ዠ የ ደ ጀ ገ ጠ ጨ ጰ ጸ ፀ ፈ ፐ
(Amazigh alphabet)ⴰ, ⴱ, ⵛ, ⴷ, ⴹ, ⴻ, ⴼ, ⴳ, ⴳⵯ, ⵀ, ⵃ, ⵉ, ⵊ, ⴽ, ⴽⵯ, ⵍ, ⵎ, ⵏ, ⵓ, ⵄ, ⵖ, ⵅ, ⵇ, ⵔ, ⵕ, ⵙ, ⵚ, ⵜ, ⵟ, ⵡ, ⵢ, ⵣ, ⵥ
ꯀ, ꯁ, ꯂ, ꯃ, ꯄ, ꯅ, ꯆ, ꯈ, ꯉ, ꯊ, ꯋ, ꯌ, ꯍ, ꯎ, ꯏ, ꯐ, ꯑ, ꯒ, ꯓ, ꯔ, ꯕ, ꯖ, ꯗ, ꯘ, ꯙ, ꯚ, ꯛ, ꯜ, ꯝ, ꯞ, ꯟ, ꯠ, ꯡ, ꯢ, ꯥ, ꯤ, ꯨ, ꯦ, ꯣ, ꯩ, ꯧ, ꯪ


See also

Inline citations

General references


Further reading
  • Clodd, Edward (1904). The Story of the Alphabet. New: McClure, Phillips & Co.
  • Daniels, Peter T, and William Bright, eds (1996). .
  • Fromkin, Victoria, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams (2014). An Introduction to Language (Tenth Ed.) . Boston: Wadsworth Cengage. .
  • (2022). 9780760766101, Barnes and Noble.
  • Powell, Barry B. (1991). Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet. | .
  • Robinson, A (2003). "The Origins of Writing" in Crowley, David and Paul Heyer Communication in History : Technology, Culture, Society (Fourth Ed). Boston: Allyn and Bacon pp 34–40.


External links

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